Transportation Styles In The Philippines
One time during my trip in the Philippines I was able to spend a day with my Youtube friends Dimple, and Dana who are sisters I met through Youtube on the internet. We used public transportation to get around the city. My time spent with them was wonderful and I learned a lot about how public transportation works in Metro Manila.
Using public transportation in the Philippines is quite interesting. The majority of public transportation there is delivered by what Filipinos call jeepneys. From what I have heard, they were leftover U.S. army trucks from World War II. Since then, I believe the Filipinos have also made their own, and owners hire drivers to drive around the city and pick up passengers for 7 pesos each trip. Jeepneys look like small buseswith major style. The owners paint the vehicles with different graphics and pictures. Some have all kinds of suped up decals and artowork as well as really bright lights and loud speakers playing all kinds of music. It reminds me of MTV’s “Pimp My Ride” applied to buses. They have the most random words on them as well. For example, the jeepney I rode in had the words Anthrax written on a sign above the front of it. I do not know what any of the words mean, but some others I saw had the words “Fighting,” “American,” and some had the owner’s name on them. Maybe Anthrax was a dedication to the heavy metal band with the same name, but I really do not know.
When inside a jeepney, one notices that it is very cramped and people are extremely close together depending on how many people are riding in it each time. Extra people who cannot fit in the seats hold the back of the jeepney and stand. They hang on bars to hold themselves up as they put their feet on special foot placements. The jeepney also has a low roof and taller passengers like myself have to bend forward for the ride. This can be very uncomfortable on the spine for long distances. Jeepneys are open air and the windows have no glass; when it rains people can get soaked, but some have a tarp they tie up with bungee chords to protect passengers from most of the rain; but not all of it unfortunately. It was dry when I rode the jeepney and I could smell the smog from automobiles and the overall pollution of Manila. The jeepney was blasting ACDC’s song with the lyrics “She’ll be all night long” as it turned corners really fast and swerved through traffic completely owning the road. At night time some jeepneys that are fancier than others have neon lights underneath and on top much like low-rider cars. They blast hip hop music or rock and roll really loud which reminds me of a mini, moving dance club. One night when I was riding back to the missionaries house I was saying at with another local Filipino pastor we got on a jeepney that had bright lights and loud bass. The interior was lit up with red and white lights. The outside had neon strips of lights going all over it. The band Linkin Park was playing really loud with heavy guitar parts. Older people riding the bus just stared blankly forward and younger college aged and high school kids laughed and talked a lot. It was a pretty fun ride and a unique experience. To me such decoration comes off as cheesy, but yet so awesome!
Each jeepney has what Filipinos call a “barker,” which is someone who calls out their route to passengers in order to pick them up (he barks out the routes to prospecting passengers). They are the ones who collect money. I have heard that the jeepney drivers and barkers are tough people, and if you do not pay they are not afraid to punch you in the face and throw you out. They also get very upset if you give them large bills to pay for the ride. They prefer exact change or small bills and lager coin currencies. They will make change such money, but anything larger they will tell you to get off. Most drivers have all kinds of good luck charms on their dashboards such as stickers os patron saints, Mother Mary and Jesus as well as small Buddha statues and other gods. So syncretism with religion is very noticeable with such people.
Over the last week I stayed in the Philippines I was able to ride jeepneys several times. To emphasize the tough character of the drivers, the first driver of the jeepney I was in first of the morning ran over a stray dog. I felt the vehicle break really hard and then I heard screeching over and over. It turns out it was not tires screeching but the dog yelping in extreme pain. When I looked out the back of jeepney I saw a dirty white dog pulling itself in circles. Only the dog’s front legs would work and it fliped around over and over as it writhed in extreme pain. Slowly the dog was able to drag itself off the street to the side where it went out of sight in some grass. I felt terrible, but the jeepney driver shrugged it off and did not care. Even the passengers showed no real emotions about it. But this kind of thing probably happens all of the time in Metro Manila. To get a jeepney to stop the passenger only has to yell “para” which means “stop” in Tagalog. All public transportation on the streets is stopped in this way.
When I first rode a tricycle it was with Dimple and Dana going to their house and we all three crammed into it, with Dimple on the back. A tricycle is fun. It is a motorcycle with a sidecar and has a small seat directly behind the driver for an extra person, this is where Dimple sat. There is a roof above the driver reminiscent of a golf cart to keep passengers from getting wait in the rain. We drove through the barangay through a subdivision to get to their house. I remember it smelled like gas and smoke made it hard to breath. The motor is also pretty loud and it can be hard to hear what is going on outside of the cart let alone see what is outside since the passenger is boxed inside the small side campartment.
If one has to ride a tricycle (also called a trike) with more than one passenger it can be very uncomfortable, especially for tall people. Since I am taller than most Filipinos, when doing ministry with three other men one day, I had to sometimes ride on the back seat. I crouched down and had to have my back bent in an uncomfortable position until we reached our destination. This was because the roof over the driver was too low for me. Only about 2 people can fit inside the side cart of a tricycle (3 if the people are small). A large person cannot fit on a tricycle with other people so they have to ride on the cramped back seat with the low roof when other passangers are present. Tricycle drivers drive very fast and erratic at times, but it is really fun! One downside is that the motor of the bike is right next to the side car so many times I had to breathe the smoke as the engine burned. Also, when it rains you get soaked if you are on the back as there is not much protection. Inside the car is better, but you also cannot see where the tricycle is going because the small windows are always dirty and if it is raining the plastic covering that is meant to protect the passenger from the rain is blurry. I kept thinking that a tricycle driver could take me anywhere he wants without me realizing it only knowing when we stop where I would end up.
Tricycle rides usually cost 7 pesos, but can be more expensive depending on what barangay one is in. Sometimes it can also cost less with more people riding it at one time.
When I was hanging out with Dimple and Dana that one day, we took the metro-link train all the way to inner Manila. Trains are much like the subway train in Los Angeles. The only exceptions are that people are always cramped inside the boxcars, all of the time. Only the lucky and early people can rush in and grab a seat. Most people have to hold onto a bar or handles connected to the ceiling to keep their balance. All of the passenger’s bodies are very close together. In the past the city had problems with perverts grabbing females’ body parts, so my friends informed me that at one time they split up the boxcars with all male and all female cars to segregate people. Now it is optional as there is one designated car in the front for females only.
Later that night we took a taxi a few blocks to one of our destinations. The taxi was much like the taxis in the United States, but much cheaper. The car smelled like cigarette smoke and the driver was in a hurry, but polite. I noticed he had a small cigar he was smoking. He was unusually nice as he only charged us a small amount for the short distance we traveled. This is rare in Manila. I guess he felt sorry for us because of the two girls I was with and there was a storm. At out stop he let us off in the extreme pouring rain and we had to step through a large and deep puddle to get to the sidewalk. We got soaked. But it was a lot of fun and then we caught the train again to get back home.
About three other times I was able to take a taxi as well. I was with the son of the missionary I stayed with for the last two weeks of my trip. These taxi drivers were rude and complained a lot about our destination being out of the way with no passengers going back and wanted a huge tip. Taxi drivers are not very nice people for the most part which is unlike my first taxi experience with Dimple and Dana; I guess I was lucky that my first taxi driver was so nice. These drivers whined like children and began swearing. It was rediculous. I have heard rumours that some of them will go crazy and try to rob you. Apparently, a few days later that missionary kid who was with me got into a taxi when he was alone and the guy was trying to con him out of money by not running the meter and was very upset that the destination was out of the way and there would be no passengers to pick up on the way back. So, the driver stopped the car and forced the kid to get out before he got home. The taxi driver demanded his money and the kid got frustrated and annoyed at the drivers behavior so he threw the money in the back of the seat all over the place and walked away. The driver began to flip him off and cuss him out. The kid got away okay, but it could have been dangerous. Taxi drivers have no patience and can act irrationally with anger sometimes.
Another funny think about vehicles in the Philippines is that there are basically no street rules that are really followed. The paint on the road for lanes are just suggestions, not actual rules. So, cars drive all over the street on any side they want and drivers just have to watch out for one another. It can be scarey sometimes.
One other style of public transportation I took was the most interesting and amazing. In the city of Alabang there is a railroad track that is no longer in use. The locals have built rickety push carts out of wood and home made wheels that grip the tracks. These carts are powered by a human engine who pushes the carts by running and then jumping on a foot rest to ride a long with it. When the energy dissipates, the man pushing the cart jumps off and begins running more and pushing it again. He repeats this over and over. Carts can fit about fifteen people so it can be heavy for the pusher; especially in the hot sun as there is no shade. There is only one track and carts go both ways on it. When two carts head toward each other the cart with less people on it stops and the people get off. The pusher of that cart lifts the entire cart off the track on its side as the other cart passes. The carts are light weight and can be lifted easy as they are placed back on the track and the passengers get back on. These carts only cost 5 pesos a trip.
I also was able to ride a bus one time with a local pastor. It costs 11 pesos to ride a bus and they are owned privately. All transportation in the Philippines, except for the train is privately owned. These buses are very large, much larger than the average bus in the U.S. When I got on I did not have to pay right away which seemed unusual. I was told to just sit down by the pastor who was traveling with me. There are two men on the bus much like a jeepney, one drives and the other collects the money and gives a small ticket. He walks up to the passenger and collects the money while the bus is already in motion (one can only imagine what happens to passengers who do not have payment). The money collector switches places with the driver from time to time to give each other breaks from driving. The space in the bus is very wide and comfortable. The seats were a little old and torn in some areas and the bus played the radio loud. This bus was playing Linkin Park just like the jeepney earlier mentioned (this band seems very popular in the Philippines). Later, the driver turned off the radio and turned on the TV. There was a TV at the front of the bus to watch and it was playing a Filipino soap opera. Many of the Filipina ladies on the bus were intensely watching it. To stop the bus the passenger just has to yell “para” which means stop. A bus can pick up a person anywhere on the road just like a jeepney can and stop anywhere on the road as well. During our trip on the bus the driver stopped near a station and went outside and left the money collector on board. The driver took over 15 minutes to come back. He was busy talking to some people and I have no clue what about or why he stopped. Other passengers after awhile were getting impatient and showing outwardly that they were annoyed. Finally the driver came back on and drove us further.
Airplane and Boat
Airplanes and boats are not exactly “public” transportation, but it is a form of getting somewhere between islands. We rode on a local airline to get to the city of Bacolod, and another time the Island or Boracay. Airplanes are much like they are in the U.S. with the same kinds of rules and attitudes of people. We rode on small jets.
Riding a boat in the Philippines is another issue. To get to the island of Boracay upon destination one has to take a small boat. This was fun and we were told to wear lifejackets. The sailors piled our luggage on top of the boat as we sat in the interior. The windows have no glass or any covering so you can stick your hands out in the water and feel the wind. The boat was powered with a motor and when we arrived within a few minutes we just took turns getting off the boat and walking over a ricket bridge with hand rails to get to the dock.
Other forms of transportation I did not experience
Bicycles with carts which are much like the motorcycle trikes I rode was one vehicle I did not get to try. It is powered by the pedalling of the driver and has a roof as well. This is much slower transportation. I only got to observe this breifly during my travels around the city.
Horse and carriage is one way of transportation in downtown Manila near the bay. This is much like fancy downtown areas of major U.S. cities that try to remind you of historic traditional things. Two FilAm girls I was with during my trip rode around the block and it took a really long time as it is very slow.
Overall reflection of public transportation in the Philippines
What I noticed about the public transportation in Metro-Manila, Philippines is that it is very fast paced and passengers travel in what seems at times, as uncomfortably cramped spaces. This would make most Americans feel uncomfortable. I also noticed that if you are not knowledgeable about prices, especially if you are foreign like me, the drivers of taxis, and tricycles will try to rip you off and tell you a more expensive price; so one has to be careful to not ask “How much?” because that question can cause a passenger to get cheated. Even with such differences in the Philippines I recommend traveling in all the modes of public transportation you can there. Try things at least once because the experience is amazing.
God has really shown me a lot through the cultural differences in transportation in the Philippines that people are creative in their own ways, work with what little they have to get things going and make some money; especially in Alabang. What creative genious minds who created the pushcarts on the rails. I also notice the indifference in attitudes towards animal death and slight road rage that jeepney drivers display. Riding transportation also gives a person a wide screen view of the landscape and different people riding along with you. It was also interesting to see the syncretistic religious nature of the Philippines by what drivers have on their dashboards. So if you ever get to the Philippines with a missionaries mindset check this stuff out and ride all over the place in the general public! Do not just hire personal drivers. Resist such temptation for convenient travel if you are staying at a rich person’s house because you will miss so much. Public transportation in the Philippines is unique and exciting!